MSN announces homepage update, aims to create personalised online command centre

  • Didge
  • September 11, 2014
  • Damien Venuto
MSN announces homepage update, aims to create personalised online command centre

Following on from last week’s announcement that Yahoo had updated its website with features that allow for greater personalisation, MSN has now similarly given its homepage a facelift.

The website has not yet been officially released, but Kiwis can catch a glimpse of the changes by visiting the preview site.

Here’s what the standard site looks like:

Here’s a look at the preview:

Deepak Maharaj, the executive producer for MSN market leads in New Zealand, says that MSN decided to launch a preview first, because it gives the tech company a chance to respond to any criticisms or concerns the audience might have.

“We want all the feedback we can get—the more critical, the better,” says Maharaj. “We aim to use this feedback to change things if necessary.”

The official release date for the new interface has not yet been announced, but Maharaj says MSN’s international head office has included New Zealand as one of the countries for the global roll out that will occur within the next few months.

While the homepage will still largely serve as an aggregator of “premium content from the world’s leading media outlets,” the updated version incorporates a range of tools that enable users to personalise their experience across PC, phone and tablet (MSN also plans to extend to mobile apps across all major platforms, including Windows, iOS and Android).

This new interface will allow users to customise the layout of the MSN homepage by organising categories and interests in a way that reflects their personal preferences. 

“We have re-written MSN from the ground up for a mobile-first, cloud-first world,” said Adam Anger, general manager for Microsoft advertising in the Asia Pacific region, in a release. “And because it’s a single platform, once you personalise, you get the same experience everywhere – on every device that works for your life.”

James Butcher, sales director for Mi9, which manages advertising sales for MSN in New Zealand, says that this will give users a fluid experience that seamlessly carries over from one device to the next.

“A user could access a recipe on a laptop at work, and then create a shopping list based on what is required to make the meal,” says Butcher. “Then, once the user enters the shop, that list could be accessed via a mobile phone. Finally, upon arriving home, the user could then access the saved recipe via a tablet and proceed to cooking.” 

     

Users can also select their cities for weather reports, sports teams, preferred stocks and favourite restaurants, ensuring that they stay connected to the information most relevant to them.

The new homepage also centralises control of all Microsoft’s digital properties, making it possible for users to access their Outlook, Skype, OneNote, OneDrive and Xbox Music accounts in one place.

But the service isn’t only limited to the services owned by Microsoft. Users can also log into Facebook and Twitter, which in turn means that most of the users’ online navigation is restricted to a single homepage.

“Portals have been around since the early 2000s,” says Tony Wilkinson, the regional director of Microsoft advertising for Australia and New Zealand. “This is really a case of reimagining what an online portal could be.”

In a sense, MSN aims to have its portal function as a personal online operating system that gives users access to all their information in a single place. It removes the need to constantly rely on the web address bar to go from one site to the next, and thereby makes the web experience more fluid.

Interestingly, Kiwi web entrepreneur Anthony Patrickson attempted to do something similar with the launch of The Daily Youser, a free app that collates content from different sources that the user might like and then presents it on a single homepage.

The idea behind The Daily Youser was to give the Australasian online community access to a system that was relevant to their regional needs. At the time of the app’s launch, Patrickson expressed his admiration for international apps like Flipboard—based on the same premise—but said that there was really nothing similar available in the local market.

However, with the update of MSN and Yahoo’s homepages this is no longer the case, because both homepages will allow for an experience based on the users' preferences regardless of their location. 

According to Maharaj, content fed onto the MSN website will be sourced from over 1,000 different publications, many of which are local.

In the past, MSN has worked closely with Bauer (previously APC) to feed content onto its homepage, and Maharaj says that MSN will continue to work with all its current local partners as well as the range of international publications that provide content.

But given the emphasis on personalisation, where does this leave the editors that have previously been responsible for curating the content set to appear on the homepage on a daily basis?

Maharaj says editors will still play a crucial role in determining the content that is fed into each of the verticals based one the preferences of certain users. Essentially, what this means is that MSN’s editors will still be required to hand-curate some of the content to ensure a unique experience for each market across the world. So while the users preferences will determine what appears on the website, MSN editors will ensure that content fed into various verticals isn’t random.  

And although MSN is drawing significant attention to the user benefits, updates of this extent tend to be quite pricy. And for this reason, it also needs to come with financial benefits for the company.

One major benefit of the new system is that it enables advertisers to better target potential customers.      

“The transformation of MSN allows brands to be in the thick of a rich library of premium content that travels with readers throughout the day, regardless of device,” said Ben Poole, head of interaction for Asia Pacific, in a release. “This positive brand association is a win for the industry and a win for users looking for quality content in an adaptable environment.”

This suggests that content marketing will start to play a bigger role, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that banner ads will be abrogated entirely.

Butcher says that one of the advertising tools that MSN plans to unveil is ‘Load on Scroll’, which means that an ad is only loaded when the user scrolls down to where it is located. This will give advertisers a more accurate gauge of the effectiveness of the campaign, in the sense that measurement will not be based on overall page impressions but rather on how many users actually see the ad displayed.   

The new MSN also makes information ‘actionable’ by incorporating personal productivity tools like hotel booking engines, shopping list generators, flight checkers, and savings calculators into the new experience.

Butcher says that the MSN team is currently road-showing these and other tools across the country in an effort to introduce the nation’s media buyers to the new range of options available to them.

He also says that though the appearance and effectiveness of MSN’s offering has improved, the process of buying ads remains largely the same. Brands can still purchase ads through similar IAB standard units, as those that were available on previous versions of MSN.    

Regardless of how personalised or effective an online interface is, many media buyers are predominantly interested in the number of eyes that see the page every day.

Butcher says that there are about 400,000 visitors to the MSN website every month, but he adds this number grows substantially when Skype and Outlook are added to the equation. Comparatively, Nielsen puts Yahoo’s monthly visitors at around 800,000.

However, if MSN does manage to attract all its Outlook, Skype, Xbox Music, OneNote and OneDrive users to the centralised location of its homepage, then its new proposition could start to look far more attractive to potential advertisers.     

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